HMEs shine in Isabel’s aftermath

Friday, October 31, 2003

CARY, N.C. - Several devastating hurricanes and a surprise snow storm have taxed North Carolina and the Chesapeake Bay area in recent years, so, for HME dealers, news of the approaching Hurricane Isabel in September meant enacting their well-worn emergency plans.

“After you’ve gone through so many of these, I guess it becomes sort of just a busy day,” said Beth Bowen, executive director of NCAMES.

The plans included the important task of supplying oxygen backups for home oxygen patients in the storm’s path.

First Choice in Home Care in Chesapeake, Va. created a hard-copy master list of all its oxygen patients, set up a remote answering service in Florida and installed generators to run its cylinder fill system - diligence that paid off for the company and its 400 oxygen customers.

“We were the only company in 250 miles that could keep filling cylinders,” said David Mills, president of First Choice.

First Choice kept busy for days after the storm delivering backups to its clients and others in need. It also opened its doors to worldwide oxygen supplier BOC Gases, which was inoperable after the storm, and it filled more than 300 cylinders for Sentara, the 5th largest homecare business in the world.

“If nothing else, we have taken a great deal of pride in how well we have prepared, because all of a sudden we realized we are standing out here looking really smart for all the things we did to get ready for the storm,” Mills said.

Other providers fared as well, and Bowen said she heard no stories indicating a lack of foresight from providers.

Providers also did not lack determination. Companies spent the whole weekend on the road making deliveries, navigating around downed trees and flooded streets.

“We came down here and sat in the dark and helped people,” said Louis Mizelle, owner of Mizelle Discount Drug in Ahoskie, N.C. “I think we got along well.”